Emulating the Guthrie would be wise

By Chris Jones

Tribune theater critic

October 21, 2007

Here are 10 things Chicago arts organizations -- and the planners of future new arts facilities here -- could learn from the new Guthrie Theater.

1. Open the building at all hours.

The Guthrie's doors open early every morning and stay open until last call. People flock to the facility -- for eating, drinking, strolling, sitting, gawking -- whether or not they are seeing a show. No Chicago theater does the same.

2. Show off the backstage

In most performance venues, the backstage areas are hidden from view. But at the Guthrie, you can stand in the lobby with your drink and stare down through tinted glass at shadowy figures moving around backstage. It's a tantalizing, glamorous view of the machinery of theater.

3. Give tours. Every day.

Chicago arts venues tend to offer tours only rarely or by special arrangement. The Guthrie does them every day. And they're packed.

4. Give artsgoers a choice of decent restaurants. And keep them open after the show.

At the Guthrie Theater, the attached eatery, Cue, is packed after the shows -- both with theatergoers and the general public who come for late-night food and drink, live music and to hobnob with the actors. More casual restaurants are elsewhere in the complex. Contrast that with, say, Petterino's at the Goodman Theatre -- which closes early most nights, and even on weekends shouts last call around the time of the final curtain.

5. Liven up the bars.

If you want to go out on a date for a drink in Minneapolis, the Guthrie is a stellar choice -- hip ambience, fine cocktails, great views, sophisticated style. At most Chicago venues, you're left standing at a temporary cart. At the Guthrie, there are serious temptations to skip the second act.

6. Juice up the retail.

The Guthrie's shops offer a plethora of cultural gifts in full-blown retail settings. Like the Cirque du Soleil and other masters of arts merchandising, the Guthrie has figured out that people are happy to browse and buy high-style items as part of their leisure activity. It brings in money for the arts -- and adds to the audience's pleasure. In Chicago you're lucky if you get a couple of coffee mugs to browse.

7. Skip the nasty ticket takers

At the Guthrie, there's no intimidating, airport-style gantlet to run as you hand over your ticket at the door. Nobody rips your ticket. Instead, the crowd flows freely and feels welcomed into the seats.

8. Don't forget the outdoors

The Guthrie sees its outdoor surroundings as an inherent part of its experience. Great views abound from all its lobbies. And a farmers market operates outside its front door -- selling organic cheese in the shadow of huge pictures of Tyrone Guthrie and Arthur Miller.

9. Signage matters.

The Guthrie's signage pays homage to its warehouse-district surroundings and fills the night with moving words. In Chicago, you'll be lucky to see what's playing.

10. Honor the tradition.

In Minneapolis, the Guthrie has been part of the cultural landscape for half a century. Even though this is a new building, you're never allowed to forget the history. Old shows bedeck the walls. Huge pictures sit astride the columns. Holographic images of past triumphs ride the escalators. Reminders of the past are everywhere. And the audience thus feels supportive and proud.



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